Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
When I first started looking at the NBA landscape entering the season, the Los Angeles Clippers jumped out at me. I looked at their roster, the players they had added, and I was ready to make the bold prediction that the Clippers, not the Lakers, would emerge as the best team in the Pacific Division. The reason was simple: Depth. While the Lakers had the biggest names, the Clippers were deep. And they still are. But I've backed away from my bold prediction. I still think the Clippers will benefit from depth, but not as much as I originally thought. The reason I don't think the Clippers will emerge is also simple, and his name is Vinny Del Negro.
I remain convinced that Del Negro is among the worst coaches in the NBA. I have zero faith in his ability to manage the variety of players the Clippers have acquired. In a moment I'll begin praising the actual players on the roster, but all of them will be subjected to a guy with a long track record of mismanaging late game situations. Every time you start to get excited about the Clippers, glance over at the sideline. In fact, earlier today it occurred to me that I'm really rooting for the Clippers to pull a Varsity Blues mutiny on Del Negro. "The only way we're going back on that court is without you." Chris Paul is Mox, Chauncey Billups can coach from the sidelines on crutches, Blake Griffin is Tweeder. It's perfect. As vfettke pointed out, we could even have a moment where Chris Paul's son interrupts a press conference to tell CP3, "I don't want...your life." I'm really hoping this happens.
But the roster. Oh, the roster. Chris Paul is magnificent. It simply cannot be overstated. He's so good that it constantly pains me that he plays for the Clippers. It makes me hate him, despite how much I love his game. Blake Griffin is an incredible talent. He whines too much, and I can't wait for his first flopping fine, but he's an incredible talent. And I hope he's turned a corner. There was a moment in last year's playoff series against the Spurs. Suddenly it was as though the facade was gone and Griffin was just busting his ass on the court. He was playing harder than I've ever seen him play. It was a transformation. I loved it. If that Blake Griffin shows up this season, a) I'll like Griffin a whole lot more, and b) the league is in trouble.
Beyond the big two, the Clippers have plenty of pieces. The question is if those pieces can actually fit together. Some of this goes back to Del Negro, and the way he uses players. Caron Butler is a great example. Butler was used a spot-up player from three last season. Caron Butler is not the right guy for that role. There's a chance Butler is completely washed up, but I think he was simply misused. Grant Hill figures to be used in a similar way, even though Hill's three point shooting has fallen off in recent years. I like Hill as a leader, but I'm terrified what will happen as Hill goes from the Suns training staff to the Clippers.
Ultimately, I just wonder how the roster will be managed. Butler, Hill, Billups, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe, and Willie Green will all share some configuration of the minutes not devoted to Chris Paul. I don't know how it will work. I don't expect Del Negro to figure it out.
The Clippers will still be a playoff team. There's too much talent not to be. Chris Paul has carried far worse rosters into playoff berths. The Clippers will be there. But I'm not convinced that they'll do much damage. They need a new coach and they need a roster with clear roles and responsibilities.